Editor's Note: Continuing our Food Revolution series, John Robbins tackles transgenic crops (GMOs). Moving on from last time (this is the third installment of three parts on this important topic), for those who missed the fairytale as a child, The Emperor's New Clothes was a tale of deception and theft - making The Emperor's New Foods a fitting title for this story of corporate corruption of our most basic of needs. Spread the word - people need to know.
The Emperor's New Foods
by John Robbins, an author widely recognized as one of the world's leading experts on the intimate link between diet and environmental and personal health. Amongst others, John is the author of the revolutionary book 'Diet for a New America', a book nominated for a pulitzer prize, as well as the updated 'Food Revolution' and 'Healthy at 100'.
|Aren't we, for profit, being duped out of our most basic needs, yet being too stupid/scared to say something?|
In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Percy Schmeiser has grown canola (rapeseed) on his 1,400-acre farm for 40 years. In 1997, he began to notice something unusual. When he sprayed Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup around electricity poles, the herbicide killed all the weeds except for a thin scattering of canola plants. Schmeiser had been cross-breeding his own canola for more than 30 years, saving seed from each year’s harvest as farmers have done for centuries, and at first he thought he might have accidentally created some kind of Frankenstein mutant. He mentioned his concerns to some of his neighbors. The next thing he knew, private investigators hired by Monsanto arrived at his farm uninvited and took samples of his crops.(2)
Sure enough, some of the plants were genetically similar to Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola. The company then accused Schmeiser of “stealing” its seeds and infringing its patent. Monsanto demanded compensation to the entire value of Schmeiser’s 1998 crop, plus punitive damages, court costs, and his signature on a nondisclosure agreement that required him to stay silent about the affair.(3)
But in this case, Monsanto picked the wrong guy to try to intimidate. Schmeiser had been mayor of the town of Bruno for several years and a member of the Saskatchewan provincial parliament. He is a hardy mountaineer who has three times attempted to scale Mt. Everest. Not one to be bullied, Schmeiser turned around and countersued the corporate giant for nearly $10 million Canadian—for trespass, crop contamination, and defamation. Further, he accused Monsanto of “arrogant, high-handed, and shocking conduct and callous disregard for the environment.”(4)
Schmeiser said he had never bought Monsanto’s seed and didn’t want to grow the corporation’s genetically engineered varieties. He was not a criminal who wanted to profit from stolen technology, he said, but a victim of that technology invading his property and crops. The reality, according to Schmeiser, is that many of his neighbors are growing genetically engineered canola, and pollen from them is blowing everywhere. “It’s in the ditches and the roadsides; it’s in the shelterbelts; it’s in the gardens; it’s all over. . . . We’re just touching the tip of the iceberg in contamination of fields by this Roundup genetic canola.”(5)
On October 2, 2000, the 131st anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, Gandhi’s family gave this Canadian farmer the prestigious Mahatma Gandhi award. An enormous crowd of 300,000 Indian farmers gathered to listen to and support Percy Schmeiser.
When I first learned that Monsanto was suing Percy Schmeiser because their crops had invaded his fields, I could hardly believe it. It seemed ludicrous. But then I remembered that this is the same Monsanto that sues dairies who dare to inform their customers that they don’t use the corporation’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone.
I have a friend—I’m sure you know people like this—who needs at all times to be positive. She has the same smile on her face in every situation, and her voice seems to me to have the deep human resonance of saccharine. When I told her about Monsanto and how I felt about some of their intimidation tactics, she reprimanded me for being “too negative.”
“I’m sure their intentions are good,” she admonished me. “They just need to be loved.”
I agree with her, actually, that the people at Monsanto, like all people, need to be loved. But I also think that when a corporation runs roughshod over questions of public health, freedom of choice, and ecological stability, and presents us with the grave risk of irreversible genetic pollution, they need something else as well.
They need to be stopped.
In Percy Schmeiser’s fields, Monsanto’s genetically engineered canola apparently cross-pollinated with his traditional varieties and passed on the genetically engineered trait that enables them to tolerate the company’s herbicide. In time, however, it is inevitable that traits that have been engineered into commercially grown transgenic crops will transfer not only to neighbors’ fields but to wild plants and weeds. In 2000, scientists from the government-funded National Institute of Agricultural Botany announced the first genetically modified superweeds in Britain. Pollen from a genetically modified trial crop of canola (rapeseed) had crossed with a field of wild turnip. According to the Independent, “Some of the ‘Frankenstein’ plants, which had inherited their GM parents’ herbicide-resistant genes, were able to breed.”(6) Since the advent of genetic engineering, scientists have warned of the risk that crops that were engineered to be resistant to herbicides would leak the genes that provide that resistance into the very weeds those herbicides are intended to kill. Until recently, however, we did not know when this might occur. In fact, it has happened sooner than almost anyone imagined.
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As farmers are faced with increasing herbicide resistance in the weeds they confront, how will they cope? In many cases, with ever more sprayings of ever more toxic, and expensive, poisons.
The problem of genetically modified organisms transferring their genetic traits to new organisms is not limited to the plant kingdom. More than 50 laboratories around the world are currently conducting research into transgenic fish. These labs are splicing genes from chickens, humans, cattle, and rats—into carp, catfish, trout, and salmon.(8)
One of the serious problems this practice is likely to cause is called “the Trojan Fish Syndrome.” When you engineer human growth genes (or other growth genes) into fish, the fish that result grow far larger than normal. That’s the whole point of the practice. But there is also an unintended consequence. These enormous fish, which have growth genes from other species (sometimes including humans) in every cell of their bodies, upset the balance of Nature. Native fish are attracted to, and mate with, these gigantic fish. This gives the genetically engineered fish a selective advantage, and they create more offspring. But it turns out that the offspring of the genetically engineered fish have far higher mortality.(9)
What you have, says Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, is “Darwin on his head. You have a selective advantage to the genetically engineered fish, as far as reproduction, but their offspring are dying. . . . Scientists found that putting 60 genetically engineered fish into a population of 60,000 native fish could render the entire species extinct in as little as forty years.”(10)
Standard salmon weigh about 8 ounces at the age of 18 months. But scientists have now genetically engineered salmon that grow so fast that by 18 months they weigh 7 pounds. Many scientists say that if these genetically engineered salmon were to escape, populations of wild fish could be wiped out by breeding with them. Edwin Rhodes, aquaculture coordinator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, says, “We have to have absolute certainty that transgenic fish do not interact with wild stocks.”(11)
But the enclosures in which farmed salmon are usually kept are net pens, and they are notorious for being torn by waves or by hungry wild fish.
How often do farmed salmon escape? Routinely, sometimes by the tens of thousands. Almost 1 million farmed salmon escape annually in Norway alone. In fact, in some parts of Norway today, there are five times as many escaped farmed salmon living in the wild as there are wild salmon.(12)
Meanwhile, one company that had engineered Chinook salmon that could grow up to 550 pounds was forced to suspend its research after leaked secret papers revealed that deformed heads and other severe abnormalities had occurred during the breeding program.(13)
Our situation today reminds me of the birth of the nuclear era, another time when humanity stood at the threshold of a new technology. When nuclear power was first introduced, there was tremendous excitement about its potential. The Monsanto Corporation, always thinking big, proposed a plutonium-powered coffeepot that would boil water for 100 years without refueling.(14)
Enraptured with the possibilities, we believed that nuclear energy was going to give us “unlimited energy” that was “too cheap to meter.” But of course, that’s not what happened. Instead, it has given us radioactive waste too toxic to dispose of, and too long-lived to store safely. If you take into account the long-term environmental costs, most of them not yet paid, it’s given us energy too expensive to comprehend.
If we could do it over again, knowing what we know now, we would surely not allow our excitement about the possibilities of “the peaceful atom” to lead us to leap blindly ahead. If we could do it over again, knowing what we have learned, we would certainly be far more cautious.
Our challenge today with genetic engineering may be even more profound, because this technology acts on the blueprint of life itself. Medical biotechnology is one story, because it intentionally contains its creations; but agricultural biotechnology is something very different, because it intentionally releases its creations into the natural world. As new living organisms, bacteria, and viruses are released into the environment, they do things that even nuclear contamination cannot do. They reproduce, migrate, and mutate. They transfer their new characteristics to other organisms.
In the tightly controlled laboratories of medicine, scientists splicing genes and altering DNA may well find cures for dreaded diseases. But what holds so much promise under the totally regulated conditions of medical research presents entirely different implications in the open fields of the world’s farms. Medical research advances through trial and error, and mistakes bring new insights and understanding. But when it comes to genetically altered life forms, once a mistake is made and released into the environment, there is no telling the damage it may do, damage that may then continue to reproduce and exist virtually forever.
The story of Frankenstein has occupied a prominent place in the imaginations and dreams of our culture for more than 100 years. It is the story of a mad scientist, infused with his own excitement, working in his laboratory to create a new life form, only to have it turn on him and on all humanity. Has the Frankenstein story lived so powerfully in our culture because it had a message for us, a warning that if we become too arrogant and too enthralled with our own scientific prowess, our own creations may be our undoing?
Our recent experiences, not only with nuclear power but also with CFCs (chlorofluorocarbon chemicals that destroy the ozone layer) strongly indicate the need for caution. But genetic engineering, possibly the most powerful technology humans have ever discovered, is now being deployed at a breakneck speed by the very same corporations that, historically, have produced one large-scale calamity after another.(15)
When Rachel Carson launched the environmental movement in the United States by publishing her classic book, Silent Spring, Monsanto responded by taking out full-page ads ridiculing her conclusions, attacking her integrity, and implying that failure to use pesticides would cause a plague of insects that would devastate the world. As it happened, we’ve taken Monsanto’s route and built our entire agriculture around agrochemicals and pesticides, with the result that the pests have developed resistance to the chemicals. Now, even as we assault our farmland with millions of pounds of poisons annually, bugs are eating as large a share of the world’s food crops as they did in medieval times.(16)
Monsanto is also the company that brought us Agent Orange and PCBs, and told us repeatedly, before they were banned, that each was safe. Today, Monsanto still produces many pesticides that are banned in North America for export to countries whose laws are not as strict as ours. There they are used on fruits and vegetables, many of which are then, in a circle of poison, sold to the United States to be consumed by unsuspecting consumers. All non-organic fruits and vegetables from tropical countries such as Mexico are likely today to be carrying residues of pesticides that are banned, but are nevertheless manufactured, in the United States.
Monsanto has been convicted in U.S. courts of at least four major offenses, including neglect and widespread dissemination of misinformation and a $108 million liability finding in the case of the leukemia death of a Texas employee. The EPA ranks Monsanto’s factories as among the largest generators of toxic emissions in the country.(17)
This is the company that is talking about consolidating, and controlling, the entire food chain. This is the company in whose hands, with barely a trace of governmental oversight, we are placing what may be the most awesome technology human beings have ever known.
Is That So?
“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” — Phil Angell, Monsanto’s Director of Corporate Communications, New York Times, 1999 (18)Pesticides in Every Cell
“Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.” — FDA Federal Register, Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties
In 2000, what Monsanto calls “insect-resistant” crops made up roughly a quarter of the nearly 100 million acres planted in transgenics worldwide. (The other three-quarters of worldwide acreage were planted in herbicide-resistant crops, primarily Monsanto’s Roundup Ready varieties.) (19)
Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from a naturally occurring soil organism, Bacillus thuringiensis (commonly known as Bt). By transferring the gene responsible for making Bt—a natural pesticide that kills many kinds of leaf-eating caterpillars—into corn and cotton, Monsanto and other companies have produced crops that are toxic to the European corn borer and the cotton bollworm. Every cell of every plant contains the Bt gene and produces the Bt toxin. Caterpillars that nibble, die.
But there’s a problem. For many decades, Bt has played a crucial role in organic farming and other low-input sustainable farming practices. Farmers who have wanted to minimize their use of chemical fertilizers have relied on an occasional dusting of Bt to prevent a crop from being overrun with leaf-eating caterpillars. Because the pesticide has been used judiciously, insects have not developed resistance. But crops that have been genetically engineered to generate the Bt toxin produce it constantly, and in every cell. This means that insects are continually exposed to the toxin and are under constant pressure to develop resistance. When insects eat any part of these plants, the only insects that can survive are those that have developed resistance. Dow Chemical scientists, who have created their own line of Bt-containing crops, said in 1998 that Bt would lose its usefulness within 10 years, because so many insects would become resistant to the toxin.(20)
What will occur is entirely predictable and indisputable. Once insects become resistant, naturally occurring Bt will no longer be useful in organic farming. Genetically engineered Bt crops will destroy the usefulness of the natural pesticide that has for decades been a foundation of organic farming and a mainstay of other forms of low-pesticide farming.(21)
In 1999, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements joined with the Center for Food Safety and Greenpeace to file a lawsuit charging that the EPA, in approving genetically engineered Bt cotton, corn, and potatoes, was permitting the “wanton destruction . . . of the worlds’ most important biological pesticide.”(22)
In an effort to slow the development of insect resistance, the EPA now requires farmers to surround their genetically engineered crops with non–Bt protected crops in what are called “refuge areas.” Here some insects can safely feed without developing resistance. It is hoped that these insects will breed with those that have become Bt resistant, thereby diluting the evolved resistance. But Bt resistance is apparently a dominant trait, so these anti-resistance measures are, unfortunately, doomed to fail.
In 1999, Bob Shapiro, Monsanto’s CEO, boasted that cotton growers planting the company’s insect-resistant variety of cotton used 80 percent fewer pesticides.(23) If this were as it seems, it would be a boon to our imperiled ecosystems and to all of humanity.
But, alas, there’s more to the story. The plants Monsanto calls insect-resistant are actually “insecticide-producing.” And the toxins in Bt plants are present in a more active form than naturally occurring Bt, so they harm a wider range of insects. Lacewings, for example, are beneficial insects that prey on crop pests. A 1998 Swiss study found that when lacewings were fed corn borers raised on Bt corn, many of the lacewings died.(24)
Ladybugs (also called ladybirds, lady beetles, and lady flies) are another beneficial insect. Like lacewings, they help control mosquitoes, and they are crucial to keeping aphid populations in check. But in 1997 a Scottish study reported in the New Scientist that when ladybugs were fed aphids that had been eating potatoes genetically engineered to be insect-resistant by incorporating the Bt gene, the ladybugs laid fewer eggs and lived only half as long.(25) By essentially breeding Bt resistant pests, and killing off those pests’ natural predators, we are potentially doing incalculable harm to the future of agriculture.
Then there are bees. It’s been calculated that in the state of New York, on a summer day, bees pollinate more than a trillion flowers. But one study found that when bees were exposed to the more active genetically engineered form of Bt, their ability to distinguish the different smells of flowers was impaired.(26)
You may have heard about the Monarch butterflies. In 1999, the scientific journal Nature published a study finding that the pollen from Bt corn killed the caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly. These creatures feed on milkweed, which often grows alongside and among corn. When pollen from Bt corn was scattered onto milkweed leaves, simulating the corn pollen that blows over milkweed plants every summer, the Monarch caterpillars that ate those leaves died.(27)
In 2000, the worldwide acreage planted in crops containing the Bt toxin was greater than the entire world’s organic acreage. But as Monsanto bragged publicly about the benefits of these crops, still another piece of the story was unfolding.
Naturally occurring forms of Bt are degraded by soil microbes, but the more active forms produced in Bt crops are far more hardy and remain in soil much longer, with much greater capacity to kill insects.(28) As farmers incorporate plant material from genetically engineered Bt crops into the ground after harvests, these toxins accumulate, posing serious dangers to the myriad forms of bacteria, fungi, and other micro-organisms that make up healthy soil ecosystems. We have yet to see what will happen as unprecedented quantities of this more active form of Bt build up in soils.
There’s yet another piece. When corn and other food crops are genetically altered to incorporate the Bt toxin into their cells, those Bt toxins also wind up in our food supply. Do we have any idea what effect these toxins and gene products will have on the bacteria and other organisms (microflora) that live in the human digestive tract? Or what the effects on humans will be of the concentrated amounts of Bt that will accumulate in meat and dairy products high on the food chain?
The Bt toxin—in the form in which it naturally occurs in the bacteria that produce it—is considered relatively safe for humans. When produced by bacteria, the toxin exists in a “protoxic” form, which becomes dangerous to insects only after it has been shortened, or “activated,” in the insect’s digestive system. In marked contrast, however, some genetically engineered crops produce the toxin in its activated form.(29) Humans have little experience with exposure to this form of the toxin, which has up until now only existed inside the digestive systems of certain insects.
Furthermore, people eating genetically engineered Bt crops are exposed to amounts of the Bt toxin that are completely unprecedented. In the past, no one has ingested any form of the Bt toxin in large quantities. But when the Bt toxin is incorporated into our common foods, we are exposed with every bite we eat. A pesticide engineered into every cell of a food source cannot simply be washed off before a meal.
When Monsanto’s Bob Shapiro speaks about the marvels of Bt cotton, there is one other thing he doesn’t mention. I can understand why he’d want to keep silent about it, because it raises serious concerns about everything he and his company stand for and are doing.
There is a very real risk that crops engineered to produce their own pesticide, such as Monsanto’s Bt corn and cotton, will spread their genes into the plants of the surrounding fields or woods. This would cause something I am sure Bob Shapiro would never want to see—what Worldwatch Institute’s Ed Ayres has called “one of the true nightmares of technology gone haywire—toxic chemicals that reproduce.”(30)
We often think of insects as nuisances and believe that we’d be better off if they did not exist. But like the fungi in soil that assist plants in taking up nutrients, and like the bacteria in our own intestines that produce B vitamins, insects have a role to play in the greater scheme of things. If Bt crops weaken the populations of ladybugs and Monarch butterflies, lacewings, and bees, and damage innumerable other insects and micro-organisms, we will have paid an incredible price for factory farms to have cheap corn for feeding livestock and for agribusiness hiring fewer employees to tend its cotton fields.
Each time the fabric of life becomes more unraveled, things become more tenuous for human life. Biosphere II, the $200 million experiment in the Arizona desert in which eight people were sealed inside a giant bubble, failed primarily because of problems in the mix of soil organisms, bacteria, and other microbes. The environment in the bubble of Biosphere II became increasingly untenable for human life. Is it conceivable that in our haste to grow genetically engineered foods, we will cause a much larger experiment, Biosphere I, otherwise known as planet Earth, to become likewise jeopardized in its ability to sustain human life?
One thing’s for sure. You’d have a hard time convincing the dead and dying Monarch butterflies, or the lacewings or the ladybugs, that crops genetically engineered to carry the Bt toxin are substantially equivalent to traditional varieties.
At the Grocery Store and Restaurant
Due to the lack of labeling, very few Americans realize how many of the foods for sale in U.S. grocery stores today contain genetically engineered ingredients. When I first learned that two-thirds of the foods sold in U.S. supermarkets now include genetically modified substances, I was flabbergasted.(31) When I first heard this high figure, I thought it must be a gross exaggeration. But I have since learned that it is all too true.
There are three reasons that the amount is so great and that the public has virtually no idea this is happening. The first is that more than half of the U.S. soybean crop and one-third of the U.S. corn crop are genetically engineered.(32) The second is that soy and corn are widely disseminated in processed foods. (Soy oil accounts for 80 percent of the vegetable oil consumed in the United States,(33) and various forms of corn syrup are the most widely used sweeteners.) And the third reason is that genetically altered foods are not labeled in the United States, so consumers have been eating increasing amounts of genetically engineered ingredients without even knowing it.
If salt is added to a bag of corn chips, for example, there must be a label to disclose that salt has been added. The label tells exactly how much sodium is in the product, permitting shoppers to make informed choices. But there is no requirement for the package to reveal whether the corn, itself, has been genetically engineered.
In 2001, the FDA put forth a new policy that did nothing to remedy this situation. In fact, under the new policy, not a single producer of genetically engineered foods would have to reveal that their products are genetically engineered. Instead, the agency created a “GE Free” voluntary labeling scheme which punishes food producers who do not use genetic engineering, by putting the burden on them to certify, test, and label their foods as “GE Free.” Many companies, of course, cannot afford to undergo the considerable time, expense, and liability of testing, certifying, and labeling their foods as “GE Free.”
How did FDA officials explain the agency’s opposition to mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods? Labeling, they said, was potentially misleading to consumers, since it might suggest that there was a reason for concern.
At the present time in the United States, the only sure way to avoid eating genetically engineered food is to eat organically grown food. No organically grown food is made from transgenic crops. But since it is not possible for most of us to eat only organic foods, the next best thing is to read labels carefully and to bear in mind which foods are most likely to contain genetically altered substances. Here’s what to watch out for . . .
Products Made from Plants
- Soybeans: There are more acres of genetically engineered soybeans being grown than any other transgenic crop. And many processed and manufactured foods use ingredients that contain soybeans. You have to read labels carefully. Watch for soy flour, soy oil, lecithin (used as an emulsifier and stabilizer), soy protein isolates, and concentrates. Watch also for textured vegetable protein (TVP), any unidentified vegetable oil, and just about every form of margarine. The only soy products you can be sure are free from genetically modified substances are those made from organic soybeans, or ones that specifically say “GMO-free,” or “Non-GMO.”
- Corn: Corn accounts for the second largest transgenic acreage. Watch out for corn flour, corn starch, corn oil, corn sweeteners (including corn syrup, or high-fructose corn syrup). Many processed food products are made with corn ingredients. As with soy, only if such foods say “Organic,” or “GMO-free,” or “Non-GMO” can you be sure they do not contain genetically engineered ingredients.
- Canola oil: Most of the canola oil consumed in the United States comes from Canada (indeed, the can- in canola derives from the first three letters of Canada). Since much of Canada’s canola (also called rapeseed) crop is genetically engineered,(34) and seeds from both kinds of plants are mixed together, it’s almost certain that any product containing canola oil includes genetically altered substances, unless it’s labeled GMO-free. The exceptions are organic canola oil, and a specialty product called “Super Canola,” which, using traditional breeding methods, was developed to tolerate heat so that it can be used for frying without smoking up the kitchen.
- Potatoes: As of 2001, the only genetically engineered potato commercially available was the Burbank Russet, but you still have to look out for potato starch and potato flour.
- Papaya: Most non-organic papayas grown in Hawaii are genetically engineered.
- Cottonseed oil: Since more than half the U.S. cotton crop is transgenic, products containing cottonseed oil are almost certain to include genetically altered substances.
- Squash: Some crookneck squash and zucchini now in stores have been genetically altered.
- Other foods: There are many other varieties of genetically engineered plant foods that are under development. For a brand-name shopping guide to non-transgenic foods, visit www.safe-food.org.
- Global transgenic acreage accounted for, in 2000, by soybeans: 54 percent (35)
- Global transgenic acreage accounted for, in 2000, by corn: 28 percent (36)
- Global transgenic acreage accounted for, in 2000, by cotton: 9 percent (37)
- Global transgenic acreage accounted for, in 2000, by canola: 9 percent (38)
- Crop that Monsanto is hoping to put into large-scale production in 2003 or 2004: Roundup Ready wheat
Ninety-five percent of the soy meal grown in the United States, and almost that high a percentage of corn, are used as livestock feed. The result is that virtually every non-organic meat, poultry, dairy, or egg product in the United States today contains genetically engineered substances.(39) Feedlots and factory farms in the southern United States seasonally add cotton silage to animal feed, which further increases the animals’ exposure.
Roundup has been shown to build up in the hulls of soybeans, and the hulls are used as animal feed, so meat eaters in the United States today also have increased exposure to the herbicide in the animal products they consume.(40) Dr. Marc Lappé, the author of numerous landmark studies on the nutritional realities of genetically engineered soybeans, writes,
“Use of herbicide tolerant crops virtually guarantees that beef, poultry and pork will have higher contamination levels of selected pesticides than such livestock had previously. Special tolerances for Roundup herbicide residues in silage were instituted to increase the utility of Roundup Ready soybeans in animal feed crops.”(41)Of the millions of acres of soybeans planted in the United States in 2000, more than half were planted in Roundup Ready soybeans. Feedlots and factory farmers were already buying most of these beans for animal feed. In the future, the consumer demand for non-GMO soy products will almost certainly increase, and the price of genetically engineered soy and corn will drop to a lower tier than the price for traditional varieties. From past experience, we can predict that feedlots and factory farms will increase their use of genetically engineered soybeans and corn to cut costs, making meat and other animal products an increasing risk.
Indeed, if mandatory labeling were to become a reality, the direct human consumption of genetically engineered soybeans and corn would diminish dramatically, but people consuming U.S. meat, poultry, dairy, and egg products would still be unknowingly ingesting ever-increasing concentrations of genetically modified substances. Labeling would not protect people consuming meat and dairy products unless these products were also labeled with information about how the animals were fed.
In the United Kingdom, McDonald’s has pledged not to use meat from animals fed genetically engineered food.(42) But in the United States, the meat industry has done quite the opposite. In late 2000, Dan Murphy, the editor of Meat Marketing and Technology, wrote an essay that showed just how ardently pro-biotechnology the U.S. meat industry has become and how blatantly hostile toward those who would question it:
“Most [U.S. meat] industry executives I’ve talked with will take a pretty hard-line stance against the anti-biotechnology activists. Who can blame them? The ‘biotech is bad’ position is based not on thoughtful, rational deliberation but on a visceral loathing of all things corporate and technological. . . . [The anti-genetic engineering movement is driven] by activists who’ve found a reason to live in fighting what they see as a psychological replacement for the terror we once felt about the atomic bomb.”(43)Meanwhile with about 25 percent of U.S. dairy products coming from cows injected with rBGH, most commercial milk, ice cream, yogurt, butter, and cheese sold in the United States now contains some quantity of genetically altered material.
It’s not just the feed the animals are given that’s transgenic. In some cases, the animals themselves are being genetically engineered. The goal is to produce cattle, pigs, and chickens that are “better suited” to the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions of factory farming. Agribusiness dreams of pigs as large as hippopotamuses but as docile as slugs, and featherless chickens that won’t need to be plucked and never peck.
Human genes have been transplanted into pigs, but with little publicity, owing to concern about “public acceptance” of the idea. The pigs developed severe arthritis, had spinal deformities, and most were blind.(44)
This may seem like the stuff of horror movies, but it is rapidly becoming reality. Andy Kimbrell, Director of the International Center for Technology Assessment in Washington, D.C., explains what has, in fact, already happened.
“The USDA has, without telling the public, been allowing into slaughterhouses and into the food chain, animals that have been involved in experiments making them transgenic. These are animals that have foreign genes in every one of their cells, and that have been part of experiments by major . . . corporations. . . . These are animals with human genes; these are animals that have a variety of viruses in them. They did this without consulting Congress. They did this without making it public. These animals have been in the food chain now since 1995.”(45)If this is true, people eating meats and meat products in the United States today are not only exposing themselves without their knowledge or consent to higher than ever herbicide residues and genetically engineered substances. They may also be eating parts of animals that have had human genes engineered into their DNA.
Kimbrell, like many who share his concerns, is outraged:
“We didn’t get to vote on whether to take human genes and put them in animals, which they’re doing through genetic engineering. . . . Do we really want unlimited genetic engineering of humans, of animals, of plants? Do we really want our generation and the generations to come after us to view the entire animal kingdom as so many machines to be reprogrammed, cloned, and patented?”(46)Editor's Note: Feeling annoyed, but helpless? You can do something.
- Part One in this Series - Pandora's Pantry
- Part Two in this Series - Farmageddon
- Pay Monsanto or Starve
- Who Benefits from GM Crops?
- The Health Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods
- The Future of Food
1. Anderson, Luke, Genetic Engineering, Food, and Our Environment (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1999), p. 50. 2. “Farmer’s Plight Shows GM Trouble,” Environment News Service, June 20, 2000. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6. Woolf, Marie, Independent, April 18, 1999, quoted in Suzuki, David, and Dressel, Holly, From Naked Ape to Superspecies (Toronto/New York: Stoddart Publishing, 1999), pp. 112–3. 7. “Sustainability and Ag Biotech,” Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly 686, February 10, 2000. 8. Anderson, Genetic Engineering, p. 40. 9. Muir, Ward and Howard, R., “Possible ecological risks of transgenic organism release when transgenes affect mating success,” Proceedings of the National Acdemy of Sciences, 96; 13853–56, 1999. 10. Quoted in “Genetically Engineered Foods—Are They Safe?” Safe Food News; 500,000 copies of this newsmagazine were distributed in late 2000 to health food stores and other venues in the United States. 11. Carol Kaesuk Yoon, “Altered Salmon Lead the Way to the Dinner Plate, but Rules Lag,” New York Times, May 1, 2000. 12. MacKenzie, D., “Can We Make Supersalmon Safe?” New Scientist, January 27, 1996, pp. 14–5; “New Prospects for Gene Altered Fish,” New York Times, November 27, 1990. 13. “New Zealand Salmon Research Halted,” Associated Press, February 26, 2000. 14. Metzger, H. Peter, The Atomic Establishment (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), p. 227. 15. “Against the Grain,” Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly 638, February 18, 1999. 16. “In the last 40 years, the percentage of the annual crops lost to insects and disease in the U.S. has doubled”—Lappé, Marc, and Bailey, Britt, Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1998), p. 102. 17. Suzuki and Dressel, Naked Ape to Superspecies, p. 140. 18. Quoted in Pollan, Michael, “Playing God in the Garden,” New York Times Magazine, October 25, 1998. 19. Halweil, Brian, “Transgenic Crop Area Surges,” Vital Signs 2000, Worldwatch Institute, p. 118. 20. Lappé and Bailey, Against the Grain, p. 70. 21. Ibid., pp. 63–72. 22. Anderson, Genetic Engineering, p. 28. 23. Shapiro, Robert, Address to Greenpeace Business Conference, London, U.K., October 6, 1999. 24. Hilbeck, A., et al., “Effects of Transgenic Bt Corn Fed Prey on the Mortality . . .,” Environmental Entomology 27:2 (1998):480–87; Hilbeck, A., et al., “Toxicity of Bt . . .,” Environmental Entomology 27:4 (August 1998). 25. Gledhill, Matthew, and McGrath, Peter, “Call for a Spin Doctor,” New Scientist, November 1, 1997, pp. 4–5; see also Tirch, A., et al., “Tri-Trophic Interactions Involving Pest Aphids, Predatory 2-Spot Ladybirds, and Transgenic Potatoes . . .” Molecular Breeding 5:1 (1999):75–83; and Birch, A., “Interaction between Plant Resistance Genes, Pest Aphid Populations and Beneficial Aphid Predators,” Scottish Crops Research Institute Annual Report (1996–1997), pp. 70–2. 26. Anderson, Genetic Engineering, p. 29. 27. Losey, J., et al., “Transgenic Pollen Harms Monarch Larvae,” Nature, May 20, 1999; see also, Ho, David, “Genetically Engineered Corn Proves Toxic to Monarch Butterflies,” Associated Press, August 23, 2000. 28. Saxena, D., et al., “Insecticidal Toxin in Root Exudates from Bt Corn,” Nature, December 2, 1999. 29. Massey, Rachel, “Biotech: The Basics,” Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly, January 18, 2001. 30. Ayres, Ed, God’s Last Offer: Negotiating for a Sustainable Future (New York/London: Four Walls Eight Windows Publishers, 1999), p. 259. 31. Goldberg, Carey, “1,500 March in Boston to Protest Biotech Food,” New York Times, March 27, 2000, A-14. 32. Halweil, “Transgenic Crop Area Surges,” p. 118. 33. Lappé and Bailey, Against the Grain, p. 52. 34. Halweil, “Transgenic Crop Area Surges,” p. 118. 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid. 37. Ibid. 38. Ibid. 39. Lappé and Bailey, Against the Grain, p. 147. 40. Ibid., p. 55. 41. Ibid., p. 147. 42. “McDonald’s Dumps GM-Fed Meat,” BBC News, U.K., November19, 2000. 43. Murphy, Dan, “Bogus Battle Against Biotechnology Lesson in 21st Century Conflict,” www.meatingplace.com, November 10, 2000. 44. Nottingham, Stephen, Eat Your Genes (London: Zed Books, 1998), p. 99. 45. Quoted in Suzuki and Dressel, Naked Ape to Superspecies, p. 147. 46. Ibid., pp. 152–3.